Silicon Valley conquers Hollywood, part 2 — There’s no business like show business

Yesterday we brought you Part 1 of Robert X. Cringely’s look at showbiz and the tech biz and how they’re each trying to screw the other trying to work together. Time now for Part 2:

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By Robert X. Cringely

A friend of mine who is a securities lawyer in New York worked on the 1985 sale of 20th Century Fox by Marvin Davis to Rupert Murdoch. He led a group of New York attorneys to Los Angeles where they spent weeks going over contracts for many Fox films. What they found was that with few exceptions there were no contracts. There were signed letters of intent (agreements to agree) for pictures budgeted at $20-$50 million but almost no actual contracts. Effectively business was being done, movies were being made, and huge sums of money were being transferred on a handshake. That’s how Hollywood tends to do business and it doesn’t go down very well with outsiders, so they for the most part remain outside.

Jump to this week’s evolving story about Intel supposedly entering with a bang the TV set top box business replete with previously unlicensed cable content — an Over-The-Top (OTT) virtual cable system. This was expected to be announced, I’m told, at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Forbes then had a very naive story about how Intel was likely to succeed where others (Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, Netflix, Roku, etc.) had already failed, with Intel’s secret sauce being lots of money (hundreds of millions certainly) to tie-up content.

Yet today Intel made it known there would be no such CES announcement at all and the Wall Street Journal saysthe problem is content licensing.

I’ll tell you the problem. It’s 1985 all over again and just like my friend the New York lawyer for Rupert Murdoch, Intel is no doubt learning that it is difficult to buy with certainly something that the seller may or may not actually own. Studios and networks are selling and Intel is buying shows they may not even have the right to buy or sell.

Remember how Ted Turner bought MGM then sold the studio but kept the movies so he could play them on WTBS? Something like that.

There’s no business like show business.

Hollywood is a company town that has its own ways of doing business. The rules are just different in Hollywood. Accounting rules are different, certainly. Avatar is the highest grossing movie in history, sure, but has it made a so-called “net profit?” Nobody knows.

Tax rules are even different for Hollywood.  Personal holding companies are for the most part illegal in America, but not in Hollywood, where they have been around for 50 years and are called loan-out companies.

My point here is that when out-of-towners come to L.A. expecting to takeover the entertainment business with money alone, they are generally disappointed. Sony buying Columbia Pictures wasn’t the triumph of Japanese capitalism it was presented to be — it was a chance for the movie guys to steal from the Japanese.

When technology companies try to do business with the entertainment industry they are nearly always taken advantage of. Hollywood can’t help it. Like Jessica Rabbit, they’re just drawn that way.

Look at Intel and remember this is the company’s third such effort to get a foothold in the entertainment business, where technology companies tend to be seen as rubes ripe for plucking. Apple and Microsoft are right now trying to do exactly the same thing as Intel and they aren’t succeeding, either. Nor will any of them succeed unless they take a more enlightened approach.

My next column will spell out exactly how this could be done.

…And that column will be here at TVWriter™ tomorrow!

See-Read the Illustrated Version of the MOONRISE KINGDOM Screenplay

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Nobody can say that Focus Features doesn’t know how to campaign for an award.

The screenplay for the Focus Features film MOONRISE KINGDOM (which we thought was brilliant, btw), written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, has been nominated for the Best Original Screenplay of 2013 Award by 4 different organizations:

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We know this because who are members of the WGA got the pic above in an email from the production company that also included – get this – a  47 MB PDF file for an illustrated version of the screenplay.

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Reading the script that way is awesome, believe you us. We wanted to share it with everybody at TVWriter™ by posting it here for download but then the usual guys in suits started freaking out about potential legal problems.

Fortunately, there’s another way to go. Well, a place, actually. Cuz MOONRISE KINGDOM, the Illustrated Screenplay is also online. All of it. The, you know, ganze magilla. (That’s showbiz lingo, AKA Yiddish, for “the whole deal.”)

We suggest that you check this out HERE. (But if anybody asks how you got the link you’ve gotta stick to the Code of Silence, all right?) Hella marketing, that’s for sure. Enjoy!

LB: If I Hadn’t Made It in Television, I Would’ve Been a Comic Book Writer

…Like my buddies Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. (Although Gerry did a fine job of escaping that ghetto, didn’t he, by rising to Co-Executive Producer of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, among other TV shows?).

I’ve always thought that those working in the two media had a lot in common, and recently two writers still working in comic books have cemented that theory – John Ostrander and Martha Thomases. Here’s Martha’s take on soap opera, which coincidentally happens to be right in line with, yeah, you guessed it – mine.

Thomases Art 130111 Martha Thomases SoapSoap by Martha Thomases (ComicMix.Com)

Oh, Pine Valley! I have missed you so!

But my prayers have been answered, and All My Children will soon be back, if only on the Internet. And while it won’t feel real to me unless they get backErica Kane or Zach, I think this is a real win for those of us who like our entertainment niche.

Soap operas are not new. They were a staple of radio drama and easily made the transition to television. Usually, the focus would be on one or two families, and the drama that resulted when love, greed, hate and intrigue enmeshed them with each other and their neighbors.

Conventional wisdom maintained that this kind of entertainment was for women, especially housewives. They would watch “their stories” as they did the ironing or dusted. Every day, for 30 to 60 minutes (including commercials), they could vicariously experience the lives of beautiful people, with a cliffhanger at the end, ensuring a date with tomorrow’s show. When (white, middle-class) women went into the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s, it was assumed the genre would die.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the soap opera mutated. It invaded primetime, where shows like Dallasand Dynasty were monster hits. Soap elements – relationship dramas among the characters that couldn’t be solved with a laugh, a gunfight, or magic – invaded cop shows, doctor shows and more. Do you think you’d have The Sopranoswithout General Hospital? If so, you think wrong.

(My point is not that David Chase is a soap opera fan – although he may be – but that network executives wouldn’t have gone for the pilot without a profitable precedent.)

What ultimately drove the soaps off network television was the cost, and the continued segmentation of the audience. It’s expensive to have daily shows with big casts, big sets, and lots of writers. The talk shows that replaced the soaps are way cheaper, and product placement is much easier (although I will always remember with fondness the month that AMC had Campbell’s Soup as a sponsor, and therefore soup solved everything). They don’t get the same audience as the soaps, but they don’t need to.

The solution? The Internet. It’s taken a while for the producers to get it together with finances, and unions, but now it looks like they have.

It’s an interesting parallel to comics. Hollywood is making a ton of money from superheroes, but sales of floppies appeal to a much, much smaller audience. And, again, the Internet provides a way not only to grow the readership, but to level the playing field for those creators (and readers) who don’t want to limit themselves to one genre, or one business model.

The folks trying to resuscitate All My Children have already signed up Angie. Get Tad, and I’m there.

Did I mention that several of my friends have been writing soaps for umpteen million years too? Wonder if they can speak about comic books so wisely.

munchman Sees 1600 PENN

1600 Penn

…And I can honestly say that it’s every bit as bad as the picture above indicates.

THE GOOD:

  • Nada.

THE BAD:

  • Todo.

OVERALL COMMENTS:

No way in hell can I believe that professionals were involved in this on any level. Writing, production, direction, acting, tech credits, it’s all mierdas, as in shit. 

Creators-writers-producers Jason Winer, Josh Gad, and Jon Lovett should be dismembered and their spirits banished to the lowest circle of hell, to watch the pilot of this atrocity continuously for all eternity. As for everybody else involved – get out while you can! Get new gigs! Any new gigs!

munchman rating: pukepukepukepukepuke 5 pukies – yech

HAWAII FIVE-0 Pulls Another Ratings Stunt

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Yeah, this sure looks like a group of Jimi fans. Right.

In yet another desperate attempt to make up for the fact that the show sucks, HAWAII FIVE-0’s unsung marketing geniuses once again prove that they’re better at their jobs than the writers by coming up with a truly fascinating gimmick.

They’re giving us not one, or two, or even three, but seven – count ’em seven – “unreleased” songs by Jimi Hendrix as the sound track for the January 20th episode.

As major Hendrix fans, we’re thrilled, even though:

  • We’ve already heard all seven tracks as mp3s in various places that – so help us, God – we thought were legal
  • The tracks will be released as part of an album called People, Hell and Angels in early March

We assume that the songs will be in their entirety and certainly in the foreground of the mix, on the album but will be chopped up and/or relegated to background bullshit on HAWAII FIVE-0, so we’re not recommending that everybody drop what you’re doing and watch.

But we do recommend that CBS find a better writing staff for this series, one that can give us stories and characters that entertain us and make us want to watch, so that they don’t have to resort to this cynical exploitation of a dead guitar hero. Make that of The Dead Guitar Hero.

Speaking of the new album: